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Two-Point Reductions

Two-Point Sentence Reductions for Federal Offenses in 2024

Recent changes to the United States Sentencing Guidelines for 2024 now mean that certain people convicted of federal crimes will be eligible for more lenient sentencing, while thousands currently incarcerated will be eligible for reductions in their sentences-and thousands more are enjoying early release.

According to Part B of Amendment 821, which went into effect on November 1, 2023, qualifying "zero-point" offenders are now eligible for a two-point sentence reduction starting in 2024. The changes are retroactive for certain non-violent drug-related offenses.

Two-Point Sentence Reductions for Federal Offenses
Qualifying “zero-point” offenders are now eligible for a two-point sentence reduction.

Let's break it down: In 2024, federal inmates will see a two-point sentence reduction. However, this reduction is not applicable to all offenders. A zero-point offender, for instance, must meet specific additional criteria, such as the nature of the offense and the absence of certain factors, to qualify for this two-level reduction.

For example, the offense for which they were convicted must not be a sexual offense, a terrorism-related offense, or a civil rights violation.

Several factors are considered when considering the circumstances of the offense. These include: no threats or violence were used, it did not result in serious bodily injury or death, it did not involve firearms or dangerous weapons, it did not include aggravating factors, and no substantial financial hardship was caused as a result.

Simply put, federal legislators have passed and enacted a new policy bill to be applied to the United States Sentencing Guidelines, introducing a two-point adjustment for "zero-point offenders." This change is a testament to our legal system's commitment to fairness and justice.

This legislation, codified as Section 4C1.1, is designed for offenders with minimal or no prior criminal history. If they meet the eligibility criteria, they will be granted an additional two-level deduction during their sentencing, potentially leading to a significant adjustment in their guidelines and ultimate release date from custody.

This bill, which was passed in May of 2023 and came into effect in November 2023, has a significant aspect of retroactivity. This means a case law already deals with applying the law to past sentences. In other words, even if you have already been sentenced, you might be eligible for a reduction and a re-sentencing.

What is the Federal Sentencing Point System?

In the federal sentencing system, the severity of an offender's sentence is partly influenced by their criminal history points.

These points are based on past convictions and other relevant factors determining the offender's criminal history category. Offenders with higher point totals typically face longer sentences due to a higher perceived risk of recidivism and a more extensive criminal background.

Criminal history points accumulate based on the number and nature of prior convictions. The federal sentencing guidelines use these points to categorize offenders into different Criminal History Categories, ranging from I (least severe) to VI (most severe). Each category has a corresponding sentencing range, with higher categories resulting in harsher penalties.

What is Amendment 821?

Amendment 821, part B, addresses disparities in federal sentencing by offering a two-point sentence reduction for qualifying "zero-point" offenders.

Amendment 821

This change is designed to promote fairness and proportionality within the criminal justice system, acknowledging that offenders with minimal or no criminal history present a lower risk of recidivism.

Amendment 821 introduces three significant changes to how criminal history is evaluated, thus potentially altering sentencing outcomes for many defendants.

It helps federal inmates who received high sentences for crimes that were not serious. This means you might be able to get your sentence reduced if your crime is not violent or serious.

This Amendment gives federal judges more flexibility to even out unfair sentences. Let's look at these changes more closely.

What are the Criteria for Eligibility?

To qualify for the two-point sentence reduction, offenders must meet a list of specific criteria:

  • Zero Criminal History Points: Offenders must not have received any criminal history points from Chapter Four, Part A of the guidelines.
  • Non-Terrorism-Related Offenses: Offenders must not have received adjustments under certain terrorism-related sections of the law.
  • No Use of Violence: The offense must not have involved violence or credible threats of violence.
  • No Serious Harm: The offense must not have resulted in death or serious bodily injury.
  • Non-Sex Offense: Sex crimes are not eligible for the point reduction.
  • No Substantial Financial Hardship: Offenders must not have caused substantial financial hardship to their victims.
  • No Weapons Involvement: Offenders must not have possessed, received, or dealt with firearms or dangerous weapons concerning the offense.
  • No Civil Rights/Hate Crimes Violation: The offense must not fall under specific categories related to hate crimes, civil rights, or human rights violations.
  • No Continuing Criminal Enterprise: Offenders must not have been engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise (i.e., organized crime).

What is the Impact on Current Inmates?

Amendment 821, part B, has immediate implications for current inmates who meet the eligibility criteria. Some inmates may see their sentences reduced, leading to earlier release dates.

This amendment reflects the Sentencing Commission's commitment to addressing disparities and ensuring that sentences more accurately reflect an offender's actual risk of recidivism and the gravity of their offenses.

Early Release Possibilities

For some inmates, the implementation of this two-point reduction has already led to early release. By reevaluating their criminal history and the nature of their offenses, these individuals have benefited from a reassessment of their sentences, reducing prison terms.

Eligible inmates were permitted to petition in August 2023 for early release beginning in February 2024.

Future Implications for Sentencing

Reducing the two-point sentence will continue to affect sentencing for qualifying federal offenses. Offenders with clean criminal histories now have a pathway for potentially shorter sentences, aligning more closely with principles of fairness and proportionality.

Nuanced and Individualized Approach

By acknowledging the lower recidivism rates among zero-point offenders, the Sentencing Commission aims to create a more nuanced and individualized approach to federal sentencing. This shift considers the specific circumstances of each case, promoting a fairer distribution of justice.

What To Do If You Are Eligible for the Two-Point Reduction?

If you believe you may be eligible for the two-point sentence reduction, consult an experienced federal criminal defense attorney familiar with federal sentencing guidelines. An attorney can help evaluate your case and guide you through the petition process to maximize your chances of receiving a reduced sentence.

An additional "two levels" will be removed from your base-level offense if you are eligible for this new deduction. This can lead to months or even years being removed from your sentence. 

Importantly, as noted, this law is retroactive. Thus, individuals who have already been sentenced and are now serving a term of incarceration can be re-sentenced by the Court once the amended guideline pursuant to 4C1.1 becomes the applicable guideline for your sentencing calculation.

A federal criminal defense attorney can walk you through the retroactive application of the law and file this motion on your behalf. Contact our law firm for more information. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California.

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